Councils are broadly supportive of the guiding principles of the planning reforms in the Bill. However, we remain deeply concerned that the proposed Infrastructure Levy (IL) will deliver fewer affordable homes and expose councils to excessive levels of financial risk. We have urged Government to scrap the Infrastructure Levy, and instead work with us and sector partners to improve the current system of developer contributions.
- The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill acts upon long running asks from councils and the LGA for further devolution in England. We are pleased that the Government has proposed to speed up the process and make good on its commitment to offer all of England the opportunity to benefit from a devolution deal by 2030. It is important that councils of all sizes are engaged in the devolution process. We look forward to continuing working with government to ensure all areas of the country can reap the benefits of devolution as quickly as possible.
- Councils are broadly supportive of the guiding principles of the planning reforms in the Bill. However, we remain deeply concerned that the proposed Infrastructure Levy (IL) will deliver fewer affordable homes and expose councils to excessive levels of financial risk. We have urged Government to scrap the Infrastructure Levy, and instead work with us and sector partners to improve the current system of developer contributions.
- The LGA supports several Lords amendments which seek to address long-standing issues for councils and would strengthen the legislation. In particular, we are pleased that the government has acted to remove ‘hope value’ in certain circumstances – making it easier for councils to build social housing and other vital community infrastructure.
- However, we are disappointed that the government has tabled motions to disagree with Lords amendments 22 and 82, and urge government to reconsider their approach. Amendment 82 would allow councils to set planning fees locally. Planning departments must be adequately resourced to achieve the aims of the Bill and our shared ambition to create well-designed, healthy and sustainable places. Planning fees do not currently cover the true cost of processing planning applications. In 2020/21 305 out of 343 local authority planning departments operated in a deficit, totalling £245.4 million, which is resulting in significant capacity and skills challenges. While the government’s commitment to increase planning fees for major applications by 35 per cent and other applications including minors by 25 per cent is welcome, in 2020/21 this would have still left an £80 million funding shortfall. To secure the sustainability of the planning system and address resourcing issues, councils must have the ability to set planning fees at a level which cover the true costs of processing applications locally.
- We are also disappointed that government has tabled a motion to remove amendment 22, which would give councils the flexibility allow councillors to participate in meetings virtually. This is despite 95 per cent of councils supporting the reintroduction of virtual meetings technology using a common-sense approach. It is no longer reasonable to refuse councils the ability to enable councillors to participate in meetings in an accessible way for them. The current requirement for 100 per cent in-person attendance is an unnecessary barrier to participation, which continues to make it more challenging for various groups – including disabled people, parents, carers and full-time workers – from standing for public office and fully engaging in local democracy.
Planning application fees
- We are disappointed that the Government has tabled a motion to remove amendment 82, which would enable local planning authorities to set planning fees locally.
- Adequately resourcing planning departments will be essential to unlock the power of the planning system to build more of the right homes and create healthier, prosperous places.
- However, in in 2020/21, 305 out of 343 local authority planning departments were operating in a deficit totalling £245.4 million in 2020/21. This is creating significant capacity and skills challenges within planning departments. It is also undermining local authorities’ ability to shape their places and deliver the homes and infrastructure communities need.
- Currently, planning fees do not cover the true cost of processing planning applications. As a result, taxpayers are subsidising planning services by almost £5 million a week, including applications for major developments which should be fully funded by developers who stand to gain significant profit.
- The government have recognised that planning departments are under-resourced and have committed to increasing planning fees for major applications by 35 per cent and minor applications by 25 per cent. However, this still leaves a significant funding shortfall. Even if all application fees were uplifted by 35 per cent in 2020/21, the overall national deficit would have remained at over £80 million.
- To secure the sustainability of the system, it is vital that councils have the flexibility to set planning fees at local level to cover their costs relating to planning. This would help to effectively resource planning departments and put councils in a stronger position to address skills and capacity challenges, benefitting both communities and developers.
- We are also disappointed that government has tabled a motion to disagree with amendment 22, which would give councils the flexibility to use virtual meetings technologies at council meetings. This is despite, in a recent LGA survey, 95 per cent of councils saying that they support the reintroduction of virtual meetings technology using a common-sense approach. None said that they would go fully virtual.
- Council meetings are an essential part of local decision-making processes, where decisions that impact on the day-to-day lives of residents are made. It is important that unnecessary barriers to participation are removed to support a wide range of people to take up elected roles, so that councils reflect the communities they represent.
- Certain groups find the requirement for 100 per cent in-person attendance particularly challenging, including carers, parents of young children, younger people, full-time workers, and disabled people. Many of these groups are already under-represented in local government but have a wealth of experience and skills to contribute if participation were more accessible.
- In a recent LGA survey, one in 10 councils said councillors in their authority had stepped down due to the reinstatement of the in-person meeting requirement, after it was suspended during the pandemic. Almost nine in 10 surveyed councils said they were aware of disabled councillors who would use virtual attendance as a reasonable adjustment if permitted. While seven in 10 said that councillors had enquired about virtual attendance for other reasons, such as work commitments, excessive travel times and childcare commitments.
- We believe it is no longer reasonable to refuse councils the powers to enable councillors to participate in meetings in the most accessible or appropriate way for them. Virtual technologies are now the norm in both the public and private sectors, allowing for collaboration and input from a wide range of people to produce the best outcomes. Councils should also be able to reap the benefits of this technology to make local democracy more accessible and fit for the future.
- We welcome Government’s amendment (412D), which acts on longstanding asks from the LGA and other sector partners to remove hope value from the Land Compensation Act.
- This amendment would enable councils, with approval from a Minister, to not to pay hope value on land they buy via compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) for certain purposes, including affordable housing, health or education. Hope value describes the market value of land being inflated based on the expectation that it will receive planning permission for development in the future.
- While councils only use CPOs as a last resort, they are a necessary tool for delivering the social and affordable housing and infrastructure that communities need. Removing hope value in certain circumstances will mean councils can use CPOs more easily to build social and affordable homes and other vital infrastructure, while paying a fair price for land close to its existing value.
- Currently, hope value often makes it too costly for councils to use CPOs to build social homes and community infrastructure. This undermines councils’ ability to deliver their statutory planning responsibilities to meet the infrastructure needs of communities.
- We would have liked the reforms to go further by removing the hope value from legislation entirely and thereby the need for a direction by the Secretary of State.